Churches must engage the world to live the gospel
Written by Lee Foley
March 2004

Churches must engage the world to live the gospel

Lee Foley

 Associate General Minister Edith A. Guffey recently had a chance to sit down with Michael Clancy, religion reporter for The Arizona Republic, and talk about the church's "God is still speaking," campaign. Writes Clancy, "The idea is simple: The Bible is not the final word on divine inspiration. Hence the comma at the end of the slogan instead of a period." Clancy goes on, "It has been used to justify a variety of positions that set the church apart from its Protestant kin, including one position in particular—support for the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people in the church's congregations. The church is the only Christian denomination that has taken a position of complete openness on the question of sexuality." Guffey told Clancy that the UCC also should be known for its early stance against slavery, its early acceptance of female clergy and its early involvement in the civil rights movement, saying, "The United Church of Christ was historically first on a number of these issues. We believe in living the church in the world. A church that does not engage in the world is not living the gospel."

 Reporters from newspapers large and small have been calling on both the national setting and local churches in the wake of the finding by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that gays and lesbians are constitutionally allowed to marry in that state. The questions to the UCC generally relate to the church's longstanding practice of performing commitment ceremonies and blessing civil unions between gay and lesbian couples, one of just a handful of denominations to do so.

Reads the headline in BostonHerald.com, "Not every church fears gay marriage." The story itself goes on to quote UCC General Minister and President the Rev. John H. Thomas extensively. Thomas says, "When I was ordained in 1975, it never occurred to me that this would be the dominant issue I would face." While the Massachusetts ruling was specific to civil ceremonies in that state, and affects no other government or church, Thomas tells BostonHerald.com, "We're on a trajectory toward more acceptance. There's no turning back." Still, he sees a period of "volatility, conflict and shifting around," as attempts to reverse the court's finding play out.

On the same issue, The New York Times ran a recent front page story about those few denominations that do perform commitment ceremonies and recognize civil unions. The article looks at the increasing number of couples who choose to have their relationships blessed and how the accepting denominations are working to accommodate them. The story reports on a UCC program of providing workshops for clergy who want to learn how to deal with the increasing likelihood of being asked to conduct a commitment ceremony.

 Like many cities, Detroit faces increasingly difficult times funding its arts and cultural facilities. The Detroit Free Press ran a series on the problem and how various institutions are dealing with it. A recent installment looked at the money woes of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History. According to the story, the museum is facing some long-term problems, but as so often happens, a UCC church stepped up and made a difference, at least in the short term. Reported the paper, "If the museum is to grow, it simply has to have more members than its current 4,385," says the Rev. Nicholas Hood of Plymouth UCC in Detroit, which gave $12,000 to the museum last summer to sponsor the arrival in Hart Plaza of the Freedom Schooner Amistad.

 The Rev. Howard Storm, pastor of Zion UCC in Cincinnati, was the subject of an article in the Standard Times, serving the Dartmouth, Conn., area where he recently spoke. Storm told a group there of his near-death experience 19 years ago that converted the one-time college art teacher and atheist into the minister he is today. The details of the near-death occurrence are too many to go into here, but it's some story. The paper stays Storm was in Dartmouth to speak to 30 faith leaders on "Bringing passion of the gospel into city ministry."

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